By: Steve Balestrieri
The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be plenty of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53 man roster and who is on the bubble.
Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring is a learning exercise and that the competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on board, 35 of these current members of the roster now, at a minimum will be cut.
We’ve already looked at the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and the offensive line. The final spot for the offense is quarterback. With the team waiting to find out if Tom Brady will be on the field during the first four games or suspended is the biggest worry at the position.
So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?
Roster Locks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo
What a difference a year makes; at this time a year ago most of the talk was centered on the silly notion that Tom Brady may no longer be an elite quarterback. After a down 2013 season that saw him making do without Rob Gronkowski for much of the year and a completely overhauled wide receiver core, Brady we were told was no longer one of the top signal callers in the league.
Brady got off to a slow start in 2014 due in part to problems along the offensive line and the first month that it took Gronkowski to round into game shape; it had many believing his time had passed. But Brady caught fire and so did the team.
Brady had a fantastic year overall, passing for 4109 yards, throwing 33 touchdowns against only nine interceptions for a QB rating of 97.4. He topped it off with a stellar playoff run with big come from behind wins over Baltimore and Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Brady’s final two drives in the Super Bowl against the Seattle defense which had been compared favorably with the ’85 Bears was stuff of legend in those two drives. Brady was 14-16 for 130 yards and two touchdown passes. He led the Patriots back from a 10-point deficit to a 28-24 win.
With a healthy Gronkowski back to start the season, the addition of big tight end Scott Chandler and having the team’s top three wide receivers back for 2015 opens the door for another big year for #12. Now the only question is….when will he take the field?
The Patriots drafted Garoppolo in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft with the 62nd overall pick. Many slammed the decision at the time but Garappolo, who struggled at times (not surprising for a rookie), during training camp won the backup job.
Garappolo had some stellar moments during the pre-season and filled in well for Brady on a couple of occasions during the season. Bill Belichick knows that Brady may be facing a four-game suspension and has the two basically splitting reps thus far thru OTAs and mini-camp. If Roger Goodell upholds Brady’s suspension, then Garappolo will become the starter and it will be an interesting factor to watch.
But don’t expect a Wally Pipp type of situation to develop just yet.
On the Bubble: Matt Flynn
Matt Flynn was signed this spring as an insurance policy just in case the Brady appeal fails. If that is the case, then he’ll back up Garappolo. But don’t expect Flynn to push Jimmy G for the top backup spot. Garoppolo is the heir apparent to Brady and he’s going to get the nod unless disaster would befall Garoppolo in training camp.
Flynn has been a quality backup in the league and when called upon has performed well. Many remember the 2010 game where he led the Packers into Foxboro for a Sunday Night Football matchup and nearly upset the Patriots when Aaron Rodgers was out hurt.
It has got to be a tough situation for the 29 year old QB; His roster status is conditional upon Brady’s suspension being upheld. But he’s a professional and should stick thru at least all of training camp as the Patriots always try to limit Brady’s reps during pre-season.
The 2015 season offers no big changes for the quarterback position. Unlike last season, there won’t be many questions as to whether Brady “still has it”, but only if he’ll be available as the silly, over-blown Deflate-gate fiasco still needs closure. Garoppolo has a year in the system and is a capable backup waiting in the wings if indeed Brady isn’t available to kick off the season. Flynn will play the waiting game as well.
Stay tuned…, we’ll be down at training camp filing daily updates about the goings-on with the Pats as they begin the march to the 53 man roster.
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